Sunday, 20 November 2011

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, White Wine and Honey

It's that time of the year, not even December yet and I'm noticing that my 'Perfect Christmas Turkey in the Weber' article is starting to receive visits. Forward planning, I like it.

It's a traditional Sunday roast tonight at the firefoodie household so I visited my favourite farm shop on the way home from Luca's rugby match. Foxbury Farm, near Burford in Oxfordshire, one of the best local farm shops around here. We had already decided on pork so I chose a portion of boned shoulder and had the butcher score the skin nicely so we would have loads of delicious crackling. The fresh produce section had some lovely locally grown brussels sprouts, our first dose of brussels for the year. It was here that I also found some great local streaky bacon.

This recipe is a variation on a Delia Smith Christmas recipe and can be made with any sweet white wine, smoked or unsmoked bacon and good fresh sprouts. A white marsala wine is sweet enough to not need the honey, but I only had a dry white so I tried a small amount of honey to give a nice glaze and add that extra bit of sugar.

The pork shoulder, of course, was cooked in the Weber (keeps the hot smoky bit out of the kitchen) and the rest of the meal was cooked indoors. In addition to the sprouts, I served mixed roasted root vegetable (potatoes, swede and parsnip), and steamed carrots. I also made a simple stuffing (cooked separately) with fresh sage, more bacon, minced onion and fresh breadcrumbs.

Serves four:

- 600g brussels sprouts, trimmed and washed
- 200g streaky bacon, finely chopped
- 25g butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small glass of white wine
- 1 dessert spoon of clear honey
- Salt and pepper


Steam the sprouts until they are about half cooked, that is still firm when tested with a fork. Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a pan in melted butter and olive oil until the bacon is nice and crispy. Don't worry about all those bits that stick, the wine will sort it out when it deglazes the pan. Add the par cooked sprouts and then add the wine in small splashes so the sprouts aren't drowned in it. Keep the heat high and as the liquid evaporates, add more, a little at a time. Put a lid on for a few minutes to steam them a bit more and then add the honey and toss them about before serving.

I will remember this night by the broken handle on my Weber. It was a bit tricky getting the lid off and on, but then I've had it for over ten years. Not impossible, just tricky. I'm not going to get rid of it, I am going to fix the handle. I am going to fix the handle...

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Moroccan Spiced Chicken Skewers

Cooked over the embers of a damson wood fire

Friday night dinner parties require a special kind of planning. Being a work day, I don't have the luxury of spending all day food shopping and cooking so things need to be prepared in advance as much as possible. This is a great first course in this respect.  You can marinate the chicken the night before, and the skewers take no more than ten minutes to cook. The spectacle of the fire is also a nice warming welcome for when guests arrive.

These skewers were prepared as part of a menu for a dinner party for ten. The evening was a Moroccan themed variation of a dinner party we hosted earlier this year. I was determined to burn some wood but in complete denial of the twenty-four hour weather report; drizzle followed by heavy rain, just about exactly when I needed to be cooking, outside.

The firewood was a gift from my friend Ben when we visited recently at their new place in Herefordshire. Firewood as a gift? Yes, but this was no ordinary firewood. He had some dead branches from a damson tree and gave me some to take home as we were leaving. I was thrilled, and thank you Ben, it burned beautifully. (For tips on a wood cooking fire have a look at my earlier article, A Real Wood Barbecue.) The embers were hot. Really hot. Even with my long wooden handled tongs I managed to singe all the hair on the back of my hands.

I found the skewer recipe at and it is seriously good. I used chicken breast  instead of thigh as it is perfectly suited to hot, fast cooking and the lighter meat absorbs marinade flavours wonderfully. The spice mix is amazing; coriander, cumin, cinnamon, garlic, cloves, lemon zest and olive oil. I made the mix the night before and got a full upper body workout with my beastly pestle and mortar while gazing mindlessly at an episode of Masterchef on the telly. The chicken marinated overnight and all that was left to do on the day was skewer the pieces and whack them on the barbecue. I put coriander leaves (cilantro) between each piece for extra aroma and colour.

They need to be cooked hot and fast, so they are just starting to char on the outside without drying out on the inside.

The Waitrose recipe includes a parsley, almond and feta salad, and I added a home made tsatsiki from a  Tessa Kiros recipe in her wonderful book 'Falling Cloudberries'. Half a piece of pitta bread toasted over the embers plus a lemon wedge and the plate was finished off nicely.

By some twist of fate, the weather report wasn't quite right and it was just after we sat down for the first course that the heavens opened. It absolutely chucked it down.

The main course was a Moroccan Beef Tagine from a brilliant recipe by Jamie Oliver from his recent 'Jamie Does..' cookbook. Also great for a Friday, as you can marinate over night and cook slowly during the day or the day before with minimal attention. The beef was served with saffron and petit pois cous cous and slow roasted halved tomatoes.

A dessert of cinnamon oranges finished the meal from a great recipe from with our own addition of a splash of cointreau to give it a bit of a kick.

The next morning we received some really lovely thank you notes and text messages. Makes it all worthwhile really. And by the way, that's me, second from the right.

Chilli Bounty Number Two

Robbie, Robbie, Robbie. I enshrine you in this post. You never cease to come good with your extraordinary chilli generosity. As if the first batch wasn't good enough you return with yet another. I used a few of the skinny green ones in last nights Moroccan Beef Tagine, and the rest are going to join their friends in the freezer.
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